July 17, 2012 — The Colorado State Health Department is advising former patients of Dr. Stephen Stein, an oral surgeon, to get tested for HIV and hepatitis infections. A health department investigation accuses the oral surgeon of re-using syringes and needles on patients receiving intravenous medications for at least 12 years. The Denver police department is also pursuing a criminal investigation against the former surgeon.
The Health Department says that anyone who received an IV injection, including sedation, from Dr. Stephen Stein between September 1999 and June 2011 could have HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C. Dr. Stein was a licensed dentist who performed oral surgery in the Highlands Ranch and Denver area.
There have been no specific cases of infection linked to Stein’s offices yet. It can take several weeks before blood tests are returned. The risk of transmitting infections is very low, but it is still a possibility.
Stein’s offices are now closed, and Stein stopped practicing oral surgery in June of 2011.
The Health Department is currently reviewing medical records in an attempt to contact the patients who were treated at his clinic for the last 12 years. Approximately 8,000 letters have already been sent to former patients. However, records only existed from 2005 to 2011, so patients treated before that time will not receive letters. Furthermore, the records may not be complete, and so the department is trying to increase public awareness.
The investigation began when the Health Department received anonymous tips about unsafe injection practices. Specifically, syringes and needles were used to inject medications into patients’ IV lines, and then they were saved and used again to inject medications in other patients’ IV lines. Experts know this practice can transmit infections.
Even if a patient tests positive for a blood-borne disease, there is no way of knowing if the disease was contracted at Stein’s office or somewhere else. However, it is important to get tested and diagnosed early to prevent transmission of the disease to other people, and also to begin treatment.
In recent months, the CDC has issued an advisory to doctors about safe needle practices. There have been two outbreaks of MRSA (a type of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection) due to clinics re-using single-dose vials of medicine, a practice that tends to occur when drug shortages force clinics to use large-dose vials on multiple patients.
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